“Before freedom we always went to white churches on Sundays with passes but they never mentioned God; they always told us to be ‘good ni**ers and mind our missus and masters.’” –Clayborn Gantling, formerly enslaved in Georgia
Gantling’s words can remind us how certain contemporary societies and Western Christianity, including progressive forms, still reinforce racism through a myriad of ways of instructing Black people to be “good ni**ers who mind our missus and masters.”
The moment a Black person challenges certain white people on their racial beliefs and actions, the troubling parts of their ancestral roots can take hold of them.
The moment Black and Indigenous People of Color ask questions that calls individuals and society to move beyond inequitable systems, different white folks have emotional responses where they resist listening and engaging.
It is like a spirit takes over.
These individuals catch what I call, “the white supremacy holy ghost.”
It is a spirit that has been here before, for it never went away. Its visible white sheets riding through the cover of night have been largely replaced by invisibility through the cloak of good intentions and colorblindness.
Could it be the ghost of slavery past possessing them? When they speak in tongues, these white people find ways of calling Black people “ni**ers” without saying the word. They proclaim it like the gospel through their actions.
As this spirit moves in their lives, these white individuals back their faith with works. They cry, rant, lie, withdraw, manipulate, cheat, steal, and engage in a multitude of responses to reassert control—anything to avoid facing themselves.
Yet, these usually kind and warm people do not consider themselves to be racists, and the white and select People of Color around them most likely agree.
Politics does not matter, either.
Various white progressive, liberal, and non-political individuals work to superficially display their racial righteousness just like the white people they consider racist conservatives and evangelicals.
That is, they live, move, and have their being through the same white supremacy holy ghost.
Black People are Not Donkeys. We are Human.
Far too often, the burden of social progress as some form of racial salvation rests upon the backs of Black people to love, forgive and carry the racists in this world. In a dehumanizing sense, we symbolize Balaam’s donkey in these dynamics.
If you are unfamiliar with this story from the Torah (read the story in the Book of Numbers), I shall briefly give context to the Balaam’s donkey symbolism.
I shall pick up the story when Balaam, a mystic rides his donkey on his way to see King Balak of Moab, which God did not want him to do. Along the journey, Balaam’s donkey refuses to move because it sees an angel with a sword standing before them.
The donkey is not in the mood to die that day. On the other hand, Balaam, unable to see the impending danger, beats and berates the donkey, trying to get the lowly beast to move.
Then, God miraculously opens the donkey’s mouth to speak. As the animal talks back, Balaam sees the angel, who informs him that the donkey is the reason that his life was spared.
Black people are very well humans who have been treated as symbolic Balaam’s donkeys. Black women, particularly, have long occupied this place within and outside of our respective racial communities.
Gantling recounts, “ I ‘member Aunt Beaty was beat until she could hardly get along, but I can’t ‘member what for but do you know she had to work along till she got better.”
With the white supremacist holy ghost residing in their hearts, white people have little to no mercy and empathy for Black people.
These individuals inhumanely expect Black people to carry the weight of decades and centuries of failed leadership and greed, lack of intention in personal and societal change, and their lackadaisical, albeit performative, approaches to anti-racism.
From the cruelties of slavery to the prison plantation system, the expectation that Black people carry on and be quiet remains.
What happens when the spirit of truth shows up and open the mouths of Black people who says, “No more?”
What happens when we speak up and talk back because we see the destructive course of the White supremacy?
What if we call this unholy spirit for what it is:
Various white people from Christianity to Islam to Buddhism to New Age beliefs do not realize that their responses of trying to silence Black people when they are challenged are self-palatable forms of violence and hate. Their religion and spirituality do not save them from the ways of white supremacy.
The results are just the same as the white people with overt racial bigotry that they distinguish themselves from in their identities.
Often these Balaams in the world demonstrate with words and fall short in behavior a recognition that Black people are not donkeys. We are human with capability, ingenuity, and wisdom. We have eyes to see and voices to speak in ways that can lead and restore.
Our communities, families, and individuals have been whipped, beaten, and beguiled through policies and institutional practices maintained by people across race with foul intentions and the ones who think their good works deserve no scrutiny in the here and now.
When the white supremacist holy ghost takes over their minds and spirits, numerous white people, and anyone who is willing, use Jesus as a tool to guilt Black people into silence because their itching ears long to hear about their own racial virtuousness goodness.
It is more manipulation and control.
These white people’s words translate to telling Black people to be good ni**ers and dare not rebel to please God—to be like Jesus without using the n-word.
Spirit of Truth, Freedom, and Rebellion
What if the spirit of freedom took over? The spirit of truth? The spirit of rebellion?
It would free everyone. It would free those who follow the leading of the white supremacy holy ghost because they are deceived by what racism affords them in even indirect avenues.
When people gain the world by ignoring the systems that shackle people, in the process they lose their souls. They are not truly free.
Gantling recalls the physically oppressive measures used to prevent enslaved Black people from escaping to seek relief:
A heap o’ de slaves would run away and hide in de woods to keep from working so hard but the with folks to keep them from running away so they could not ketch ‘em would put a chain around the neck which would hang down the back and be fastened on to another ‘round the waist and another ‘round the feet so they could not run, still they had to work and sleep in ‘em, too; sometimes they would wear these chains for three or four months.”
Today, the retaliation and backlash that Black people face when we speak up, particularly in predominantly white contexts, involve methods that are typically not as visceral, save for matters such as the targeting of Black and Brown people through police brutality and over-policing to provide nearly free labor to corporations through prisons.
Gatekeeping strategies utilized by white people in different industries, along with other insidious methods with smiling faces, contribute to racial disparities under an illusion of complete freedom and equality.
When the White supremacy holy ghost is in charge, white people refuse to acknowledge how the political government, community, religious, and business practices have become the chains and weights which create and maintain racial income and wealth gaps.
Like Balaam, these particular individuals fearfully lack a vision of world where one group must dominant because of race, ethnicity, or nationality, and it seems as if it will take a miracle for their eyes to open and their ears to hear.
According to what many of us have been told in churches and different sectors of society, when Black people speak and take action, it is considered rebellion.
Rebellion tends to be a sin according to the people who seek to control certain groups of people. Only white people can rebel, and their rebellious actions are often celebrated, justified, or excused.
Unlike Balaam’s rebellious ways that leads societies and people to decline and death, Black and Indigenous People of Color and the white people rebelling against white supremacy can save our lives.
Rebellion, the refusal to follow the leading of the white supremacy holy spirit, is not a sin. It is a blessing.